Parenting Behind the Wheel
By Beth M. Wood
It is late, and I am tired. My infant son’s cries from the back seat had finally died down from howls to whimpers to peaceful sighs. Those late night car rides were just as relaxing for me as they were for Connor. Both of us were lulled by the thrum of the engine, the flicker of blinking lights on wet pavement, the occasional shoop-shoop of wipers. The car was the one place where I could count on peace between us.
As my son grew, so did his seat in the car. At two, he’d sing along to the nursery rhymes in the CD player, grinning at me in the rear view mirror as he clapped to the playful beat. He’d practice his words on me, pointing to objects to which I’d provide names.
At five, he was promoted to passenger side rear seat, riding high in his new booster seat, watching over his baby brother in the infant carrier next to him. He’d happily retrieve dropped bottles and binkies and sound out street signs on the way to school, giving me a high-five from the back seat every time he read a word correctly.
By second-grade he’d outgrown all car seats, and having learned to read silently, had long since stopped shouting out words to me. He was a quiet kid, but in the car, when he wasn’t reading, he’d talk. About his school day, his friends, his favorite song on the radio.
Before long, he was sitting next to me in the front passenger seat, his younger brother and baby sister taking up the back. It was at this point that Connor took over as car D.J., and we began talking about our shared love of music, specifically the lyrics. He’d play his favorite songs for me and tell me about his favorite bands. And I, in turn, would give him a taste of the ’70s and ’80s, instilling, if not a love, at least a strong appreciation for “good music” like Pink Floyd, Journey and Michael Jackson. Conversations about music led to other topics; school, friends, even girls. Serious subjects were saved for car rides, too; relationships, divorce, sibling rivalry.
I’ve learned more about Connor, and his brother and sister, driving in the car, than I have anywhere else. I can tell how well they’re getting along by the seat they choose. When there is tension between them, Jack will lift the third row seat and sit alone. When the oldest and youngest are getting along, six year-old Ella will request that he sit next to her rather than in front by me. Their body language speaks too: When the boys are getting along, Connor will turn his head to talk over the seat back, and Jack will lean forward against his safety belt to listen.
As a single parent, car rides have given me a glimpse into my kids’ lives when I’m not with them. They point out the places they’ve been, the restaurants they want to try, where their dad takes them for pizza.
Car rides are also where I’ve learned whom my kids’ are hanging out with, and the real reason I always offer to serve as taxi on the weekends. I learn about the type of music they’re listening to, who is doing well in school, which boy likes which girl. It’s all there, right inside those four doors. Fifteen years of talks, music, laughter, peaceful quiet and even sometimes, tears.
It is late, and I am tired. Connor has just sent me a text asking me to pick him up from his friend’s house, up the street and around the corner. It is 11 pm. Curfew. As I pull out of the garage, I am reminded of all the car ride memories that I hold dear…
The six month old infant snuggled in his car seat on the way to the babysitter.
The five year-old kindergartner dressed in his crisp white uniform shirt and blue shorts, ready to begin his school career.
The ten year-old soccer player, he and his teammates crammed like sardines into my minivan after the big game, dirt on their knees, sweat soaking their shirts, huge grins on their faces.
The fourteen-year old high school freshman, in black blazer and pink tie, the color of his date’s homecoming dress.
I pull into the driveway and walk around to the passenger side. Connor comes out and, seeing the driver’s seat empty, climbs behind the wheel to drive his mom home. I watch as my oldest son carefully navigates our subdivision streets and wonder silently at where the years have gone.